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Co-op's a chink of light in the financial gloom; Community food schemes are taking on the big stores, offering fresh fruit and vegetables at half the price.

Byline: Gavin O'Connor

HOW does the idea of fresh fruit and vegetables, at half the price, right on your doorstep grab you?

The supermarket-beating concept is becoming increasingly attractive to cash-strapped shoppers keen to eat their five-a-day.

One initiative in the South Wales Valleys, the Trealaw Food Co-operative in the Rhondda, has doubled its customer base in just more than a year.

The Rhondda Cynon Taf group won the Social Enterprise Volunteer of the Year Award and is a thriving example of the 180 food co-ops across Wales.

It operates on a simple model, buying fruit and vegetables in bulk from a single supplier and selling to local members.

Faye Jones, a retired dinner lady, helps run the Trealaw Food Co-op with five other volunteers.

"When we started off in September last year, we were preparing 50 bags - nowwedo about 100," said Faye, 57, of Wen Graig Road, Trealaw.

The group uses All Saints Church in Rhys Street every Thursday morning from 11am to noon, but is looking to extend the hours to cater for more people who see the enterprise as a ray of light in a the financial gloom.

"New members join every week," said Faye, "and the word is spreading.

I got involved through Trealaw Communities First when I started helping to bag, but got roped in to do more.

"We've also got a link up with Porth County Community School, who have outreach workers who put orders in."

The co-op buys the food from a wholesaler in Tonyrefail and there are a number of similar groups around South Wales including in Tylorstown, Rhondda, Lewistown, Bridgend and Aberfan, among others.

Faye said: "It's a social thing as well.

We get to know the members and there's a good community feel about it.

"Initially, it was meant for people who didn't have cars who could not travel far and we want to have more local involvement.

"People know they are getting good quality food at good prices."

A fat bag of Trealaw fruit and vegetables would cost about pounds 3, compared to a cost of pounds 7 if bought at a supermarket.

RichardReast is a food development worker for South Wales, which helps co-operatives to set up shop with equipment, some money, and advice.

"We are quite involved in the beginning," said Richard, one of six such workers across Wales who act for the Rural Regeneration Unit (RRU), acharitable organisation which focuses on strengthening partnerships between rural businesses and communities.

"But there should not be any funding required.

"There are minimal running costs, venues should be free to use and volunteers are responsible for the exchanges, with everything paid for in advance.

"There have been recent developments with schools because co-ops tap straight into the healthy eating agenda.

"It's about working with growers and forging links.

"We are very keen not to affect local trade and if there is an established greengrocer's in the area, we won't go there, or we will work with them."

Food co-operatives are also having a good effect on bad behaviour.

"Some teachers have seen misbehaving pupils given jobs in the school food co-ops and it's given them purpose and improved behaviour.

"The beauty is, food co-ops can be set up anywhere - inyouth clubs, homeless shelters, health centres, etc.

"There are 180 in Wales at the moment.

By April there will be 200."

Dan Dempsey, manager at RRU, said backing from the Welsh Assembly Government had helped supply 6,000 families with cheaper-priced produce via the co-ops, turning over about pounds 1m.

"We're cracking the system," he said.

"Supermarkets don't have to dominate."

FOOD CO-OPS AROUND SOUTH WALES

Bridgend: Blaengarw Food Co-op, Blaengarw Workmen's Hall, Blaengarw; Old Post Office Food Co-op, 3-4 The Precinct, Wildmill; Fruits of Love Food Co-op, Arosfa, Madoc Close, Brackla; Ogmore Oranges Co-op, Ogmore Vale Primary School; Sweet Potato Co-op, Lewistown; Cefn Glas Food Co-op, St Winifred's Road, Cefn Glas; Bettws Food Co-op, Life Centre, Bettws

Rhondda Cynon Taf: Perthcelyn Co-op, Perthcelyn Community Centre; Tylorstown Co-op, Welfare Hall and Institute, East Road; Llanhari Co-op, Llanhari Workingmens' Club, Elm Road; Fernhill Food Co-op, Mountain Ash; Miskin Co-op, Clarence Street, Miskin Community Centre; Fresh and Fruity Food Co-op, Feelgood Factory, Abercynon Road, Matthewstown; Glyncoch Food Co-op, Glyncoch Community Centre, Poacher's Ave; Trealaw Food Co-op, All Saints Hall, Rhys Street; A Treat to Eat Food Co-op, St Lleurwg Church, Hirwaun; Mount Libanus Food Co-op, Penyrenglyn Project, Corbett Street, Treherbert; Penrhys Food Co-op, Y Ffynnon, Penrhys; Lwynypia Food Co-op, Coleg Morgannwg, Pontrhondda Road, Llwynypia; Penywaun Food Co-op, Penywaun Primary School, Coed Glas.

Merthyr: Treharris Food Co-op, Treharris Boys' and Girls' Club; Aberfan Co-op, Old Library, Bridge Street; Gellideg Food Co-op, Landsbury Road, Gellideg; Penydarren Food Co-op, Community Hall, Horeb Close, Penydarren.

"New members join every week and the word is spreading"

CAPTION(S):

GETTING FRUITY: Faye Jones is helping to run the Trealaw Food Co-op for the benefit of cash-strapped shoppers in the area PICTURES: Peter Bolter
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 11, 2008
Words:824
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